Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Greetings

I think that at this time of the year we make a special effort to greet, thank and wish well those that we spend our lives with throughout the year.

There are some people that we are able to say Merry Christmas to, and pass on well wishes for the coming year. There are others who have left our physical lives and live away. We may send them a good old fashioned Christmas card with a note about what's happening for us and our families. Or, we may be up to date and email, text, twitter or send greetings on Facebook.

I am choosing this blog to send my wishes to the many people who make my life interesting, varied, hopeful, challenging, colorful, worthwhile and fulfilling.

The people I am talking about could be the person who lives next door to you. I think that the Christmas story illustrates for us that our God chose the every day situation to be with us and I believe still does. Our Lord is with us in the ordinary, the mundane and the every day. So it is at this Christmas time in the special time we celebrate the presence of Jesus in our lives in the ordinary times to come.

Last but not least I wish to send my love and best wishes for Christmas and the year to come to Julie my colleague. I give you thanks for your patience, understanding, graciousness and the new ways you continue to inspire myself and others. Merry Christmas Julie.

The photos I have chosen are of my friends in Corowa, the Burrowes. Merry Christmas. Kel Hodge

How many different ways can Santa arrive?

Forget reindeer!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Flooding across the Riverina

A meeting was help in Wagga Wagga last week with a large variety of service providers and community members to look at what assistance was available for Primary Producers who had been impacted by floods a wet weather. Over the last couple of months there have been thousands of hectares flooded and tens of thousands with rain damaged crops.

Government assistance tends to concentrate on Local Government infrastructure and there is virtually no assistance with agricultural losses. This can be a problem for those farmers who have lost all their crop and need to money to get through Christmas and buy food, let alone repay loans, plant next years crop etc. Kel and I are experiencing a marked increase in the number of requests for welfare help. The Riverina Presbytery has also asked Fred and Anne Humphrey, who did pastoral visiting in the drought, to return and work with flood affected farmers.

The group that gathered in Wagga Wagga expressed concern at the situation and also the potential for increased levels of stress and depression in Jan when farmers are able to see how their harvested ended up and how much they don't have. I suspect there will be an increase in calls for pastoral support.

As you will have read on this blog the Uniting Church as launched it's Rural Appeal. any support you can give will be gratefully received. It will provide food vouchers for families and also help to pay some of the Humphries expenses as they visit people.


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Young producers

Last week both Kel and I went to Young at the invitation of the local Uniting church there to see how the church might respond to the devastation of the cherry harvest in the area. The cherry growers in the area have lost between 60%-70% of their crop. Of course this also has implications for the local economy with less money coming in from casual labour employed, and from the producers themselves.

The local congregation was keen to see how they might help, so after their Sunday morning service Kel and I had a great planning meeting with them.
On the Monday we organised, with  the Primary Industries section of Industry & Investment NSW, a meeting with service providers in the area to talk about what sort of support could be offered. It was agreed that most primary producers in the area were very busy harvesting what fruit or crops they could and were too busy for much else, but some meetings were planned for Jan.

How can you help - wherever you can buy cherries and other stone fruit from Young or Orange. The growers are finding that their markets for the fruit they have picked  is drying up because of the public perception that it's all spoilt. This is not the case so please support growers by purchasing their fruit when you can.

My thanks to Young church for not only wanting to do something useful but also with helping to organise all this.


Monday, 20 December 2010

A travelling companion

Julie: The following was written by Jane Schrader who recently spent a few days travelling around with me. I'm always happy to have people from other Uniting Churches who want to see what this type of ministry is all about.

When I think of my time spent with Julie, recently, I think of vast distances travelled, friendly country people, connecting with small bush communities, coffee in the pub at Mt Hope on the way back from Nymagee.

A welcoming Sunday service at Hillston run capably by lay people and then lunch with the lay teacher Jenny and her husband Joe afterwards.
A trip 200klms down the track to Hay across the green Hay plains that would normally be red dust by now. A visit to Bishops Lodge there and viewing the dental implements a visiting clergy person carried with him in years goneby on his visits to the outback.

I remember very well our trip to Louth across muddy outback roads which were very wet and full of pot holes..I remember sinking in the red mud as we walked across a clay pan. We enjoyed wonderful hospitality there at the Old Post Office B and B.

The next day saw us in Bourke. Julie connected with some local workers in the areas of Aboriginal Affairs, rural outreach and the liaison person for the rural mental health project. I visited the local Bourke Outback centre which was very informative and enlightening . I have a better understanding of life as it was and is now.

We travel another couple of hours later in the day and stayed the night with Ian who is the minister for Cobar/Nyngan as well as part-time person with Frontier Services. Good to connect with someone from this wonderful service.

I travelled back to Oberon the next day. A 6-7 hour trip as the roads through Dubbo and Bathurst were show due to the rain and some of the local bridges being out of bounds.

Thankyou Julie for allowing me to spend time with you on your journey with people of the outback of N.S.W. I now have a better appreciation of the hardships and benefits of life, there.

Jane Schrader(Oberon Uniting Church- member)

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Uniting Church Flood Appeal

The recent weather wet weather events in NSW have caused great economic and emotional damage across the state.

The Moderator of the NSW Uniting Church Synod Rev Nial Reid has launched an appeal as one of the responses of the church to the devastation.

I would urge those of you able to donate to go to the link for information about how to donate.

Kel Hodge

Monday, 13 December 2010

Pulling together for Operation Christmas Child

Each year Samaritan's Purse runs Operation Christmas Child which encourages people to gather Christmas gifts for kids and pack them into shoe boxes. The boxes are then packed into shipping containers and sent to various developing countries.

Two Hillston women have taken this project to heart and this year managed to bring many people in the community with them. Hillston collected enough gifts to fill 80 boxes and had a very successful luncheon to raise the money to pay the shipping costs. Thanks to their encouragement all sorts of organisations and individuals around town got involved, from kids to seniors.

Well done to Doris and Dot who put a lot of time and passion into this project. Next year they tell me they are aiming for even more boxes.


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Safe families in Bourke

A new initiative in Bourke aims to bring together various government agencies that are involved with families to try and coordinate responses to keep kids safe.

As part of their community engagement they are looking to form good relationships with the Aboriginal elders in Bourke with a series of morning teas. I was fortunate to be in Bourke for the first of these and was allowed to "gate crash" to meet some of the local elders and workers.

The meeting was held under the covered area outside the office, which was an ideal setting on a hot humid day.

This is an initiative that very much needed in the area and it is good to see a willingness to work with the local indigenous community.

However, last week in the Bourke area was not without it's challenges and this picture shows my car after the trip from Louth to Bourke - and this is after I washed the windows so we could see out of them! Thank heavens for a big 4WD.


Friday, 10 December 2010

Eugowra Floods Again

The Mandagery Creek has burst its banks at Eugowra this morning for the second time in a week.

This is typical of the flooding affecting much of NSW at the moment. The wet weather has diminished the value of crops and damaged a lot of property in rural NSW. A farmer mentioned to me just lately that as bad as the droughts have been he always lost more from too much wet weather.

The locals in Eugowra are used to having their village cut in two during flood episodes. It must become frustrating to clean up after the water leaves behind mud and debris.

A couple of years ago a flood event hit Eugowra and the sand bagging of the Uniting Church allowed me to perform a wedding after the waters receded.

Our land is certainly a land of contrasts.

Kel Hodge

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Stressed growers

Those of our readers who live in NSW will be aware that we are having extreme rain events across the state. In many places this has resulted in the destruction of crops or downgrading to feed quality (worth less than half of good grain). We also have had, and are in the middle of,  widespread flooding.

The wet often has results that we don't think about. I was talking to someone who has a property outside Weilmoringle. They had 500mls (20 inches) last Christmas so the kids and their families couldn't get home for Christmas, and this year is shaping up to go the same way, so Christmas will be cancelled again. It wasn't something I had considered.

People often ask me what impact this has on farmers and I came across this interview done with my old boss from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, Prof Brian Kelly. As usual Brian puts it very well but he also has some good advice about helping people cope. News interview

For those who like to pray you might like to pray especially for those who have been evacuated from their homes and those who have had significant losses due to the rain.


Thursday, 2 December 2010

A Gathering on and in the water


Each year the Rural Womens' Network organises a gathering for rural women in NSW. This year it was at Wentworth, where the Murray and Darling Rivers meet. It was a fabulous weekend with over 300 women, but no only were we on the banks of the river, but the torrential rain felt like a vertical river.
But rain did nothing to dampen the fun and fellowship. With over 50 workshops, talks by a wide range of speakers, laughter workshops and fabulous entertainment it was impossible not to have a great time. The Rural Chaplains Network organised chaplaincy services for the weekend and ran a workshop on "Sustaining Hope in the Bush".

For me, one of the highlights was being able to kayak where the rivers meet, and have an opportunity to explore some of the area by water. It was especially poignant as earlier in the week I had been kayaking at the other end of the Darling at Bourke.

Next year the gathering is in Gloucester and if you can make it, a good time is guaranteed.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

130 years and still going strong


Last Sat over 70 people gathered to celebrate 130 years of the Post Office building. Although no longer operating as a PO the building has been recently purchased and restored by Warren and Lyn Oakes from Nowra, who are planning to live in part time and hoping that once again it will play a role in the life of the community.

The Salvation Army brought a band of a dozen players from Orange, Sydney, Dubbo and Newcastle, the CWA catered for the morning tea, I organised a brief ecumenical service to celebrate the restoration and the Oakes put on a BBQ lunch. It was wonderful day and everyone enjoyed being with their friends and neighbours, having a good sticky-beak at the building and listening to the wonderful band.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Art in the Bush

I recommend a drive from Orange to Dubbo making sure you turn left at Molong and proceed to Cumnock and Yeoval.

Apart from the lovely scenery and promise of great crops you will see bicycles suspended in trees. At first your mind thinks maybe the rider hit a huge bump and became airborn. Of course this is crazy especially when you see other bikes being ridden by snakes, rabbits and an assortment of other animals.

The bikes will surprise you as drive between Cumnock and Yeoval as they might be in the middle of a paddock or high in the air above the road.

The bikes are artworks representing and celebrating A B Paterson's poem of "Mulga Bill". The  Mulga Bill Festival happens in July every year. Last year some five thousand people ventured to Yeoval to enjoy the festival. The locals are proud to celebrate the fact that one of our great bush poets, Banjo Paterson, was born in the area.

Kel Hodge

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Church in Weilmoringle

Welmoringle is not a place a lot of people visit. It's 100km from Brewarrina. The village consists of a few Aboriginal homes, a school and a shop, and the surrounding district has large pastoral holdings. With very little there it would be easy to wipe it off as a place that has died.

Yet Weilmoringle is a community that has worked extremely hard during the drought to maintain their social bonds and look after each other. One of the most successful ways has been their fortnightly get-togethers at the tennis shed. Once a month they have church as well as their lunch and tennis. Their very practical shed has been largely built by community volunteers, with very little outside money, and works extremely well as a meeting place.

Last Sun I was able to join the community for their church service, lunch and a talk by John Harper on recovering from depression. It was too wet for tennis but we still had a great day of worship, food and fun together. One of the most delightful parts of the service was that they literally "pass the hat" for the collection, but this just seemed to typify the community.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

4 out of every 10 irrigation farmers are considering leaving the industry


The NSW Farmers Assocation has surveyed 525 irrigation farmers in NSW in the Murray Darling Basin on how their felt about water allocations and the results were quite striking.

Worringly 38% indicated that they would leave Agriculture if there was not enough water to carry on their enterprise. This will have a colossal impact on our food production. Over two thirds (many of whom had been in their areas for over 60 years) were concerned that farming families would leave and towns would be impacted.

There does not seem to have been a lot of consultation with only 6% indicating they had been consulted as part of the Murray Darling Basin Commission planning, suggesting that local knowledge is not being taken into account.

If you would like to read the report you can find it here

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Valleys of Gold

Driving towards the Murray River last week I was struck by the panoramic wonder of the canola crops.

The day was clear and bright which leant a special glow to the paddocks on the right and left of me. On the Old Gundegai Road between Cootamundra and Gundegai lies a  series fertile of valleys that have been extensively planted down to canola.

The picture was breath taking as it was contrasted to the other, as yet green, cereal crops. I don't know if it is the extra fertility of the soil after the drought or the new varieties of canola or perhaps both, but the growth is phenomenal.

One hopes the all augurs well and the promise of these great crops are realised in a bountiful harvest. Any number of things may happen to spoil this harvest such as plague locust, bush fires, hail storms and the possible cessation of rain.

That is definitely the glass half empty approach. I prefer to think that with such great promise the bounty will be great and all will be well.

You have to have a little bit of faith!

Kel Hodge

Monday, 11 October 2010

Water such a controversal issue


If you live in the Eastern part of Australia you will no doubt have heard that the Murray Darling Basin Commission has released their draft report on water sharing in the Murray Darling Basin - and that it's very controversial.

Here in the bush the anger/frustration/apprehension is enormous. With predicted cuts of nearly 50% in some of the catchment areas the impact is likely to be huge. As one speaker said "its like give water to the environment and count the bodies later". I believe that some of the concerns in the bush are around the strong impression that instead of the "triple bottom line" approach (economic, social and environmental) only the environment has been taken into account.

To give you some idea of the impact, the Cotton Industry commissioned a report to look into the social and economic impacts of water cuts. In Griffith (a city of 27,000) a water cut of 50% will reduce employment by 19% and population by over 25%. If this is the impact on a major city then imagine what will happen in smaller places. I was incredibly disappointed to hear one of the Wentworth Group casually mention that small towns "will just have to close".

If you would like to read the report done by Dr Judith Stubbs you can find it a here. It's in a number of parts and looks at a range of communities and areas.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Hillston sheep sale very upbeat


Hillston held their sheep sale a couple of weeks ago and it was a very upbeat affair with both buyers and sellers very positive. I think this is a great measure of how much morale in the bush has risen with the good rain that has been regularly falling. Currently everything is looking fantastic with the crops thick and lush and great pasture everywhere. A spring like this one gives people confidence to plan for the future in areas such as their sheep flocks.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A special experience


I went to Bendigo last week to a conference and while I was there had a few minutes to visit the beautiful Catholic Cathedral. Imagine my surprise when I entered and found a young man practising with a great competancy on the pipe organ. To be able to wander through this stunning building accompanied by fantastic pipe music was a very moving experience. If you happen to find yourself in Bendigo do make time to visit.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Many Cultures, One God

I was asked to participate in the Uniting Church Cross-Cultural Conference at Wagga Wagga recently.

It was my first experience of of this sort of gathering which included people from Tonga, Samoa, Korea, Lebanon, Armenia, Turkey, Niue, India, Sri Lanka and some people from Anglo-Celtic origins.
I listened to the stories of these people who struggled with a new country, culture and church culture. It was an eye opener for me as my experience is more or less mono-cultural.

Most of the stories people told were of there hopes and dreams of coming to Australia and their struggle with holding onto the richness of their own cultures in the church environment, let alone in the wider Australian scene.

I found my conversations with various people, the food we shared and the worship we participated all contributed to a fantastic week end.

It was a pity more locals could not avail themselves of this experience as I am sure they would have found it as life giving as I did.

Kel Hodge

Monday, 4 October 2010

It's now or never!


With the river dropping rapidly, today was the last opportunity I was going to get to go over the weir, so after checking it out, doning a helmet and life jacket and summoning all my courage, off I went.

It was quite an adrenalin rush and I'm really glad I got the chance to have a go (and I'm really glad I didn't make a complete fool of myself in front of the teenage boys fishing on the bank!).
Thanks to Jenny and Joe for coming with me as backup.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Chaplains Visit Hillston

Julie kindly offered the hospitality of her home, and the hospitality of the Hillston church community so the Rural Chaplains network could meet their last week.

It was a great time spent sharing and listening to each others stories about the ministries we offer in rural and remote NSW.

The network has only been meeting for about two years and it seems that trust grows as our relationships deepen and become richer.

Although we work in a variety of christian denominations with differing theological and ecclesiological standpoints, the important thing we offer in chaplaincy is a caring attitude to those we minister with and for this weekend it was each other!

Kel Hodge

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Lithgow In the Morning

It may seem to some that I have been off the air for some time. I have come to realise that time can slip away so quickly. I would plan to write the next blog and I would be away again. Oh well, better late than never!
Recently I was invited by the Lithgow Men's breakfast group to speak about the possibility of building a citizen's alliance in the Bathurst, Orange, Lithgow region.
I explained to the group that work was under way and a investigative meeting was being held in Bathurst on the 16th September.
As it turned out this meeting went well and there may well founded hope for the alliance into the future.

It was good to catch up with the men at breakfast which I might add takes real dedication in Lithgow during the colder months!

Kel Hodge

Friday, 1 October 2010

River is almost abanka


A gorgeous afternoon on Mon saw us get in the first kayak since last Autumn. Seems like such a long time since I have been on the river.

In the two years I've been here I've never had the river really running, but it is now.

Not a lot of work involved, just sit back and enjoy the ride! Now we're planning a ride over the weir. Nothing like a bit of white water rafting in Hillston.

To top it off all the birds were out and we saw kingfishers, willy wag tails, a duck with 8 small ducklings and many more.

A most enjoyable way to be in God's creation.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Hillston Show is a great day


Last Sat was a perfect spring day for the Hillston Show. It's not a big show but is a great opportunity to meet everyone and have a chat, enjoy the pavilion, watch the races like "Young Farmer Race", eat good food and exclaim at the fireworks. Events such as this have incalculable community value.

The range of fruit and veges grown in the area is truly remarkable

One of the competitions is the tallest weed! (My model was over 6 ft)

And what would a show be without machinery and farm stuff ...

or rides.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A big weekend for Hillston Church

I was very proud of the folk of Hillston Uniting Church the other weekend. On the Friday they had a luncheon to raise money to send Christmas boxes overseas for Operation Christmas Child. The church (and many members of the town) have collected enough stuff to fill 100 boxes but needed $1000 to pay for the shipping costs. Thanks to the hard work of the team they raised over $1600 at the luncheon.

Then on Sun it was a special service at the church with many extras. Not a problem to our congregation who managed to feed everyone and have food over.

As you can image I was a bit loath to ask them to back up on Mon and Tues and provide catering for the Rural Chaplains Network meeting (more on this to follow) but they not only did a great job but did it with a minimum of fuss. I and the other Chaplains were most grateful.

I'm sure by the time everyone left on Tues afternoon everyone was ready to never see food again!

The photo is an attempt to show some of the caravans parked in the church grounds for the Chaplains meeting.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Some small steps forward for Enngonia


A small, but enthusiastic group of community residents met in Enngonia a few weeks ago to think about some things that they could do to help strengthen Enngonia. Despite half the group having to leave to fight a grass fire there was some excellent brainstorming. One of the great ideas to come out of the day was for the school, Birrang Aboriginal Corporation and the Enngonia Aboriginal working party to join forces and start capturing some of the oral history of the Aboriginal Elders in the district. I think some really interesting stuff will come out of it.

If you would see some of the other small projects that they have in mind the document is under the "Newsletters and articles" heading on the Blog site.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Planning for the Future

Recently five Shires in this area were successful in obtaining a Federal Government grant to work with communities to plan for a future with less water. As part of this process a series of community meetings have been held and Hillston's was on Monday. This planning is being done in preparation for the release of the Murray Darling Basin water sharing plan.

Stage one of the process was to look at various scenarios with those who had gathered. The next stage will be to look at drivers and issues and then do some future planning in stage 3.

One of the things I find most hopeful in this project is that the Shires involved (even though they are quite small by the State standards) are actively looking ahead and thinking about strategies rather than just relying on what they have always done. It is symptomatic of the self-help attitude in the bush.


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